Exercise and learning

Exercise and learning

How exercise can help you achieve your best potential

Many of us know that exercise is beneficial for the health and that we should do it to keep at bay a multitude of diseases mostly  cardiovascular diseases as well as to keep our self’s healthy by ”burning” the energy we have stored and to build muscle, which is useful as we grow older since one of the capacities we lose first is strength.

And although all this benefits could seem unreal, the fact is that exercise also helps in learning. Indeed, this could seem unexpected but the fact is that at least from experience, we know that when we do enough exercise we feel more energized and it becomes easier to concentrate and retain the information.

Learning requires strengthening the affinity between neurons through a dynamic mechanism called long-term potentiation. When the brain gets new information this induces an interaction between the neurons, and as this activity derived from the information increases, the link becomes stronger and it becomes easier to make the connection.

Long term potentiation

Learning requires strengthening the affinity between neurons through a dynamic mechanism called long-term potentiation (LTP). When the brain is called on to take in information, the demand naturally causes activity between neurons.

The more activity, the stronger the attraction becomes, and the easier it is for the signal to fire and make the connection. The initial activity marshals existing stores of glutamate in the axon to be sent across the synapse and reconfigures receptors on the receiving side to accept the signal.

The voltage on the receiving side of the synapse becomes stronger in its resting state, thereby attracting the glutamate signal like a magnet. If the firing continues, genes inside the neuron’s cell nucleus are turned on to produce more building material for the synapses, and it is this bolstering of the infrastructure that allows the new information to stick as a memory.

Repeated activation, or practice, causes the synapses themselves to swell and make stronger connections. A neuron is like a tree that instead of leaves has synapses along its dendritic branches; eventually new branches sprout, providing more synapses to further solidify the connections.

These changes are a form of cellular adaptation called synaptic plasticity, which is where the brain derived neurotrofic factor (BDNF) takes center stage.


BDNF is a protein that is in charge of building and maintaining cell circuitry. , this protein has been shown to be present in the hippocampus region of the brain known for its role in memory and learning.

It was shown that sprinkling BDNF on neurons helped create new branches and give rise to a structure similar to the one that is known to be generated when learning.

BDNF acts by binding to the receptors at the synapse and increasing the voltage which increases the signal strength. But at the same time this also induces the activation of genes that produce more BDNF serotonin and proteins necessary to build up the synapses. Along with serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are some of the most important neurotransmitters.

As John J. Ratey explains in his book Spark

”Serotonin, is often called the policeman of the brain because it helps keep brain activity under control. It influences mood, impulsivity, anger, and aggressiveness. We use serotonin drugs such as fluoxetine (Prozac), for instance, because they help modify runawaybrain activity that can lead to depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsiveness.”

Norepinephrine, often amplifies signals that influence attention, perception, motivation, and arousal.

Dopamine, which is thought of as the learning, reward (satisfaction), attention, and movement neurotransmitter.

And the fact is that doing exercise can induce a secretion of this coctel of neurotransmitters to give us the boost we feel whenever we do exercise, without the possible side effects of deregulating one of them by taking some kind of drug.

This is also the reason why when we are used to do exercise but we stay a long time without doing any kind of exercise we start feeling less energetic.

This is because our body has gotten used to getting a certain amount of this neurotransmitters and to a certain activity and by not giving them this we end up affecting our mood.

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